In 1983, President Reagan signed a bill that approved Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a federal holiday. King is well known for his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s at which point he was assassinated. For his work, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. While arguably every American has at least familiarity with King’s work, his life and work provide a powerful message within the Christian community. King was a Baptist preacher who utilized biblical principles to launch and carry out the Civil Rights Movement. In 13 short years, Dr. King guided a movement that is still relevant, studied, admired, and remembered. While all of his accomplishments are vast and impactful, as a Christian community, we should recognize that his biggest accomplishment was his dogmatic and insightful approach to using God’s Word for effectively transforming the conscience of a nation. He used God’s word as a guiding force for the Civil Rights Movement and he continuously credited God as the force pushing the movement through. Dr. King’s unwavering faith in the truth of God’s Word is what propelled him to carry out the dream of equality no matter the cost.
There are five biblical principles Dr. King taught America that transcended race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and religion.
- Dr. King taught that sacrificing life is sometimes necessary in order to carry out a vision that would save many. He stated, “I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” Dr. King knew that he would likely be killed in his work, yet he believed his death did not outweigh what the movement would do for others. This idea is grounded in John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
- Dr. King challenged people to abandon fear because it is a barrier to the human connection. Dr. King stated, “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” He recognized that the root of the inequality that existed between blacks and whites was fear and fear allowed people to rationalize the need for segregation. In 1 John 4:18, God says “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."
- Dr. King sent a message of love to combat hate. Dr. King stated, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” During Dr. King’s life, he witnessed and experienced hate at the hands of racists who believed in white supremacy and dehumanized black people. The hate was so pervasive in the American culture that it was infused in the structure of society. Dr. King endured and witnessed brutality and economic warfare against blacks. Yet, despite all the hate around him, He believed in God’s word of love and he knew that ultimately love would win. In Proverbs 10:12, God says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
- Dr. King believed in reconciliation. Dr. King stated, “The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but noncooperation and boycotts are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.” Dr. King understood that the oppression that blacks endured for so long could harden their hearts to whites and thus contribute to a continued toxic relationship grounded in mutual hate. While Dr. King acknowledged and challenged the wrongs of white supremacy, he continuously encouraged reconciliation. He viewed reconciliation as a transformative act that can renew the nation. In Matthew 18:15, God says “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”
- Dr. King helped those who were marginalized and oppressed. Dr. King stated, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” Dr. King led by example. He made the ultimate sacrifice and throughout his life he made financial and family sacrifices to stand up for blacks who were marginalized and oppressed. In Isaiah 1:17, God says “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
Dr. King’s dream was ultimately a reflection of God’s expectation of us to love one another. On Monday, we should reflect on how King’s walk was an example to the Christian community specifically on how to be more like Christ. When we look at what Dr. King did in 13 years, we must ask ourselves what can we do in our lifetime to reflect God’s Word.
Influential Speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
"I Have a Dream" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vDWWy4CMhE
"I've Been to the Mountaintop" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98k-pjN6nl0
"The Three Evils of Society" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8d-IYSM-08&list=PLzeWRp2WfKCUjn5-aUh-5zVGukWF00Z1N&index=1